By Jeanne Tan (17A01B), Lee Yun Ning (17A01E), and Nicki Chan (18S03C)
Pictures by Raffles Photographic Society
Storyline adapted from script by Chamber Ensemble
The day before Mother’s Day, at one minute to 3pm, audience members filed into LT2 unsure of what to expect. The word “CHAMBER” lit up the front of the stage in elegant cursive, and the usual digital clock was replaced with one stuck at 2:59.
The audience settled down, the lights dimmed, and the narrator’s voice filled the LT, accompanied with soft music.
Once upon a time, there lived a young princess, blessed with a loving mother who decided that tea-time was a must.
“I am sick and tired of this,” said the Princess. “I wish all of this would just go away!”
You know what they always say: be careful what you wish for.
The ensemble opened their concert with the beautiful first, fourth and fifth movements of Idyll for Strings, composed by Leos Janacek. What started off as a melancholic tune in the first movement, Andante, soon turned into one that was more cheerful. Scherzo, the fifth movement, proved to be an uplifting end to this piece, with beautiful counterpoints between the lower and higher sections and plucked notes adding a calming effect to the piece.
Next up came the renowned Danse Macabre, the “Dance of Death”, by Camille Saint-Saëns. The ominous mood of the piece was delivered from the outset by 12 notes from the cellos, symbolizing a clock striking midnight, followed by shrilly dissonant chords from the violins. Separate waltz melodies by the violin and lower sections intertwined to evoke the mood of a frantic dance, with low, detached notes by the double bass and cello sections adding to the tension. The piece ended remarkably with a sharp drop in volume, leaving only an airy, eerie note from the violins.
The Princess’s time was stuck at 2:59, a minute from tea-time. Time was protected by the most hideous creatures, the most mind boggling passages – and was kept out of reach from all beings, by the goblin.
This particular goblin, the ugliest, most mischievous, was actually just a poor woman placed under an unforgiving curse of a witch.
“Let me save my mother and in turn, I will lift the curse from your sorrowful life,” said the Princess.
Admired for her valiant bravery, and still somewhat bent on fooling around with the Princess, the goblin offered a riddle.
The uncertainty of the princess’ fate hung in the air as the first movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden began. As though a switch was flicked, the performers’ expressions shifted from being passive to that of fierce concentration, as though the Princess’ answer depended on their playing. The song had an ominous undertone due to the alternating build-up and resolution of tension, amplified by the wavering qualities of the tremolo technique.
The song faded away on a soft note, in contrast to the previous fast-paced intensity of the piece, leaving a sense of incompleteness. Below the stage, there was complete silence.
Following that was the first movement of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No. 2, which began with gentle accompaniment on the piano and a soulful cello solo by Joshen Lim (17S07D). While the feel of the piece was gentle but cheerful, a busier melody was later introduced on the viola, causing the piece to fluctuate in intensity. The two melodies ran throughout the song and complemented each other surprisingly well with further development by the violins. The piano also added a delightful lyrical touch to the piece.
Once upon a time, there lived a young princess, whose time was stuck and was running out. Her Mother was sinking deeper and deeper into the curse, and her, into despair.
The goblin, seeing his only promise of lifting his curse dispirited, sent her a bubble – a bubble of hope.
The stage curtains reopened after the intermission to Mozart’s String Quartet no. 17, nicknamed “The Hunt”. One could liken this song to the effect of caffeine, courtesy of the many spikes in energy levels throughout the piece. While the melody was uplifting and lighthearted as a whole, it was repeatedly taken to new heights due to the powerful triads carried throughout the song.
Next was String Quartet no. 2 by Alexander Borodin, reportedly written as a declaration of love. True to its nature, the song opened with a sweet melody, smoothly traded back and forth between the cello and violin, like a loving conversation. The song’s rhythm gradually became more vigorous, seemingly a declaration of passion. The piece drew to a satisfying close with a long, drawn-out chord, as though the promise of love had been fulfilled and kept.
On that joyful note, the ensemble launched into some familiar pieces, starting with the Overture from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. The light and playful piece fell on enthusiastic ears. The Russian Dance was a pleasant contrast to its grander mood, and the mirroring of the second violin and viola sections in the harmony line intrigued the audience. However, the tune of Waltz of the Flowers caught the audience most strongly, when Farah Wu introduced the piece on the piano. The ensemble lit up the LT with its strong delivery of the grand piece, despite only performing it with string instruments and not a full orchestra.
Next came more contemporary pieces, including “Departures” from the Spirited Away soundtrack, arranged by Neo Wei Qing (17A01A). The adaptation of this music for the ensemble was particularly successful for this piece, with the pizzicato of the violin 2s contrasting with the high melody line played by the violin 1s. The effect of the ensemble coming together was intense; a cello solo ended the piece on a bittersweet note.
The final piece evoked perhaps the most enthusiasm from the audience. The John Williams medley, arranged by Ms Marietta Ku, included the iconic themes of Superman, ET, and Jurassic Park, evoking excited chatter from movie fans in the audience. While the ensemble chose not to include some other iconic Williams music (such as those from Star Wars and Indiana Jones), the magnificent arrangement ended the concert on a joyful high.
Following cries of “ENCORE!” from the audience, Joshua Yong (17S06B) took the podium as student conductor, and the ensemble broke out into the familiar theme from Beauty and the Beast. The other song, “Belle”, from the movie soundtrack was seamlessly woven in, allowing the concert to end with a level of grandeur associated with Disney fairytales.
The overarching storyline connected the seemingly disparate pieces together, adding a unique touch to the concert. The significance of the story itself was meaningful – as explained by chairperson Jackie Sim (17S03G), “The storyline was centered around Mothers’ Day, since the next day is Mothers’ Day, which teaches the audience to appreciate our mothers and thank them for whatever they do for us”.
This being their final concert, 2:59 Minute To Tea Time proved to be a memorable experience for the graduating J2 batch, as well as the J1 batch who learnt tremendously from their seniors and now have to fill their shoes. The two hour concert was but a short glimpse into the hours of late-night practice, the laughter shared and the camaraderie forged between the Chamber members.
“These 1.5 years have been nothing short of fun, friendships, and memories,” says Jackie. “To the J1s, continue doing what you all love and are good at doing!”
Fun Act 1: I’m a Little Teapot
Idyll Suite for Strings by Leos Janacek
Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens (arr: John Harvey)
Fun Act 2: New World Coming, Hall of the Mountain King, I See Fire (arr: Claire Chow)
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, Death and the Maiden, D810 by Franz Schubert
Allegro, ma non tanto from Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, op. 81 by Antonin Dvorak
Fun Act 3: One Day More (arr: Farah Wu)
Fun Act 4: Empty Chairs and Empty Tables (arr: Farah Wu)
String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat major, “The Hunt”, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
String Quartet No. 2 in D major, Alexander Borodin
Fun Act 5: Fight Song
The Nutcracker Suite; I. Overture Miniature IV. Russian Dance VIII. Waltz of the Flowers by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Departures by Joe Hisaishi (arr. Neo Wei Qing)
John Williams Trilogy (arr. Ms Marietta Ku)
List of performers:
Rin Hong Wei
Elena Lee Ruoxi
Farah Wu (Piano)
Ms Marietta Ku